Pauline Harte

Garden fever: Let the madness begin!

Pauline Harte · May 20, 1997

There are certain rites of spring that stay constant and unchanging eon after eon, and I have come to dread that first warbling robin and that first sunny spring day. I cringe defensively as the pollen-swollen lungs of wheezing asthmatics unload their springtime cargo into my airspace, and as bursting blooms explode with springtime delight, I know that I am about to succumb to that rite of spring known as "gardening fever."

On that first bright weekend of spring, my nose wrinkled in apprehensive anticipation as barbecues were fired up under a smiling, golden sun, house by house. The whoosh and crackle of those first exploding flames heralded the springtime fever that always consumes me.

As I stood over my first tantalizing cookout I heard a sound unlike all other springtime sounds, a distinctly unusual sound that brazenly crashed through the harmonious meldings of spring arias. The nurseries have opened!

The gates of every plant nursery in this valley swing open at precisely the same time every year. I know this to be a fact because I hear every taunting clank as each gate is chained open, and I can feel that familiar springtime flush wash over me as my eyes are drawn hypnotically to my barren flower beds.

Let the madness begin!

Every year, gardening fever attacks me with a vengeance, but I am not alone in this epic battle against seasonal lunacy. Like blind lemmings stampeding mindlessly to a predestined fate, we glassy-eyed land barons answer the call of the swinging gates and race to our local nurseries to buy truckloads of flats and pots of brightly hued plants and flowers. As we circle around our favorite plant parlors, we load up nursery carts in an insane attempt to have the best darned house on the block. We're hooked! We've got the fever.

I arrived home from my first spring foray to Home Depot with plants and bushes and soil food and blossom and shrub and lawn food and various garden insecticides and a dozen gardening tools. I spent two days preparing the soil for the various plants and flowers that I had come to know and love. Finally, I gently patted their plump little bottoms into their new, soft nests of aerated, vitamin-enriched, moisture-retaining soil. The sight of a lone snail threw me into a homicidal, shovel-swinging frenzy.

I awoke the next day to find my helpless babies swaying and wilting in 50-mph winds and 90-degree heat. It was a floribunda holocaust!

Thus began my crazed springtime attacks on every nursery in this valley. And now, after spending huge sums of money at all these nurseries, I have several hours of hand watering every day as the unseasonable and unrelenting heat refuses to let up. Yes, I do have sprinklers on timers, but until my husband and the gardeners decide exactly who is responsible for that broken sprinkler, I must water everything by hand. And no, the gardeners do not help with any of the gardening or planting chores. They are "allowed" to mow, blow, and skedaddle for reasons that shall remain unstated in this column. Let's just say that one gardener and a weed whacker could deforest a Brazilian rain forest in less than a day.

Many nurseries have a money-back guarantee for dead plants. But, as I have discovered, this is a heinous scheme perpetrated by nefarious nursery owners to keep us suckers coming back. You see, one-quarter of everything they sell is pre-programmed to die. They know that when we go back with a couple of dead, $2.98 plants, we will inevitably drop another couple of hundred bucks.

Do I fall for this transparent carny trick? You bet your gazanias I do! Over and over and over again. I tell my husband more than a dozen times that I am "almost done."

Last weekend, my husband stood with me in our lushly forested front yard and courageously inquired if I was "done."

"Yes, finally," I answered proudly, surveying my domain. Hubby emitted a Jurassic-sized sigh of relief as he thanked God for this long-awaited bit of news.

"Now I can start on the back yard," I chirped enthusiastically.

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